The Hexthorpe Disaster – Verdict of Manslaughter (picture)

September 1887

Sheffield Independent – Wednesday 28 September 1887

The Hexthorpe Collision County Coroner’s Inquest.
Scenes in Court.
Verdicts of Manslaughter.

From Wikipedia:

The inquiry held at Balby, before Mr. Nicholson, district coroner, into the terrible railway collision that occurred at Hexthorpe on the 16th inst., was brought to a conclusion yesterday. The jury, it will be remembered, were empanelled the day after the catastrophe to inquire how and by what means the 19 persons whose bodies lay in the guards’ offices at Hexthorpe came to their death.

At the time this inquest was opened some of the bodies had not been identified, but before the jury rose that day all were identified except one. It was the worst mangled corpse of the lot and was only recognised by the clothing. The jury reassembled on the following Tuesday, and after hearing a mass of evidence the inquest was again adjourned for a week, with a view of obtaining the attendance of the chief guard of the M. S. and L. train. Yesterday morning, prior to sitting to hear further evidence, the jurors visited the scene of the collision, and were shown exactly what the signalling arrangements were on the memorable day. They were also able to judge how far off and where the flag signals could be seen. The inquest was resumed at eleven o’clock in the Wesleyan schoolroom, Balby.

Among those present were Major Marindin, E.E. (Board of Trade inspector), the following officials of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway Co. ;— Mr. W. Pollitt (general manager), Mr. Bradley (superintendent of line), Mr. Harper (solicitor), Mr. Hamilton (assistant superintendent), Mr. R. Dallas (district engineer), Mr. Halmshaw (district superintendent), Mr, Bowskill (mineral manager at Hexthorpe),.; Mr. Young (of the firm of Beale. Marigold, and Young, solicitors), and Mr. Loveday were present on behalf of the Midland Railway Company. Mr. Warren, solicitor, of Leeds, again attended on behalf of the driver and fireman of the M. S. and L. train, which caused the collision; Mr. J. H. Davidson (from the office of Messrs. Branson and Son, solicitors, Sheffield), attended on behalf of relatives of the deceased Mrs. Middleton and her child), and Mr. Keeling (from the office of Mr. Gee, solicitor,. Sheffield) was present on behalf of the relatives of the deceased, Frederick Thorpe and Mary Mitchell.

At the rear of the room a large number of relatives of the killed sat, including Police- superintendent Bradbury. The driver, Taylor, and the fireman. Davies, were also in the room. As will be learned from the report below, the guard, Smith did not put in an appearance, and at the close of the inquest Major Marindin proceeded to Liverpool to take the man’s evidence where he lay. Mr. Warren entered shortly after the proceedings began, and at once made his presence known. There was no seat provided for him at the table, and, when asking for one, he made a remark as to seeing half a dozen people seated at the table who would only do one man’s business. Subsequently there were two “scenes “between him and Mr. Harper. In opening the proceedings, the Coroner pointed out that the guard, William Henry Smith, was still unable to attend, but the jury having made an inspection of the line and inquired into the working of the whole traffic would be able to arrive at a verdict without his evidence. He (the coroner) proposed now to call one or two witnesses more. John Henry Minshull, chief clerk to the locomotive superintendent, produced a copy of general rules and regulations of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway Company, which he stated were delivered to all the servants of the company. He produced the receipts of the driver, Samuel Taylor, and the fireman, Davies, which testified that they had received a copy of the rules and regulations, and also the special regulations for race week.

The Coroner afterwards called attention to certain rules of an important character. Thomas Barron, station master, Conisboro was called, and the evidence he gave before Major Marindin was read over and stated by him to be correct. Mr. Barron added that a signal was given to “go for-ward” half a minute after the train camo to stand-still at Conisboro’ but the driver continued oiling his engine for a minute and a half after that.

In reply to a juryman, the witness said he clearly and distinctly hoard someone say to the driver at Conisboro’, “You will have plenty of time to oil at Hexthorpe.” He could not say whether that remark was sufficiently loud to be heard by the person to whom it was addressed.

Mr. Warren now said: I have I golden had been yesterday the company to supply me, both verbally and by letter, with a copy of those printed instructions. I have never got them. I want them. Am I to have them? I asked Mr. Harper at the borough inquiry on “Wednesday. I repeated it in a letter to him two or three days ago, and I can’t get them. I don’t know whether it is a case of won’t let me have them.

Mr. Harper: You have had a copy of them. There really sound like Oakes these are the people at Sir Terry ripping off real gem

Mr. Warren: I have not.

Mr. Harper. I say you have.

Mr. Warren: Did you supply me with a copy of them?

Mr. Harper: I handed a copy of them to you and if you haven’t kept them I can’t help it.

Mr. Warren: The only things you have handed to me have been a part of that book of instructions. I have written to you and asked you verbally to let me have three copies of the complete books.

Mr. Harper: I deny that yon have over asked me to give you a complete copy. I gave you that (showing portion of a copy).

Mr. Warren:  You gave me that, and said you would give me the other after. Have you received this letter from me — you deny that I have asked yon for them — “22nd September”

The Coroner: That has nothing to do with this inquiry.

Mr. Warren: I want the instructions for the purpose of defending these men.

The Coroner: Messages that passed between you and these letters have nothing to do with the inquiry.

Mr. Warren; I have asked for the instructions.

Mr. Harper: I say you have had them.

Mr. Warren: I deny it.

Mr. Harper: I can easily understand you raising this dust.

Mr. Warren: Will you please let me have a copy of the instructions? You have never replied to my letter. You have got it, and you know it.

Mr. Harper: I deny it.

Mr. Warren (to the Coroner): I will go on as well as I can without them.

He then questioned the witness as to the collecting of tickets at Conisboro’ on the Leger day, and as to the regulations.

Dr. Penny, house surgeon at Doncaster Infirmary, proved going to the scene of the accident and helping to remove the dead and attending to the injured. He expressed the opinion that all those taken to the guard’s offices died from the injuries sustained through the collision.

Mr. Warren said he should like the opportunity of saying a few words before the Coroner addressed the jury. He fully expected to have been allowed to inspect the engine and carriages of the M. S. and L. train for the purpose of calling before the jury that day, in the interests of the driver and fireman, skilled witnesses to prove the result of that examination. At the borough inquiry he asked for leave to do that, and Mr. Pollitt frankly and candidly, and without reservation, said tube vehicles might be seen wherever they were. On the strength of that promise— (Mr. Pollitt here was about to speak, but Mr. Warren stopped him, saying he should have the opportunity afterwards) he telegraphed and had made special journeys to Doncaster, but in vain. He thought it was a most unfair proceeding with regard to these men whom he defended. He wished the jury to understand that these two men were not able to call skilled witnesses to prove something material to the inquiry, and that they were prevented by the company, who appeared to be taking the position of prosecutors more than the employers of these men.

John Isaacs was then recalled by desire of a jury man, and in reply to questions he said the flag signalmen were supplied with fog signals before going to .their posts. Mr. Harper, on behalf of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway Company, said the jury would quite agree with him that that was not the time and place to raise questions of the kind referred to by Mr. Warren. He (Mr. Harper) hardly thought the time of the jury should be taken up by the reading of the correspondence and the telegrams between Mr, Pollitt and Mr. Warren; but he was quite positive that if he did so it would be clear to everyone in the room that the company had thrown no impediment in the way of Mr. Warren.

Mr. Warren protested against Mr. Harper speaking in that way and said the correspondence would tell a different tale. Mr. Harper was stating what was perfectly untrue, and if the correspondence was read it would show the statements to be absolutely false.

Mr. Harper I say it would not.

The Coroner (to Mr. Warren): You have made your statements, and I give Mr. Harper the right to reply.

Mr. Warren: Then he must read the correspondence

The Coroner: I shall not have it read.

Mr. Warren: Then I object to him —

The Coroner: You have had your turn, now let Mr. Harper reply.

Mr. Warren: Let him read the correspondence.

Mr, Harper: I won’t say a word about the correspondence.

Mr. Warren: No, you daren’t, and you know it.

Mr. Harper said if the jury thought they could be assisted in arriving at their verdict by the evidence of an independent man who had seen the train after the accident, and if they were now prepared to cay they would like the evidence of some independent man, some expert as to the condition of the train as it was now, they were perfectly at liberty to have such evidence. But his friend would have plenty of time at the assizes to go into the questions. That was not the time or place. But he thought it would not be right for Mr. Warm’s statement to go forward uncontradicted.

The coroner, in addressing the jury, said he need hardly remind them that their duty was to ascertain the death of the 19 person whose bodies their view, and whether any person or persons was all were criminal responsible for their death.

The law on this question was as follows – “Anyone who contributes by his wilful or negligent act to the death or another is guilty of manslaughter.”

It was not necessary for him to recapitulate the harrowing details of the accident. They knew that the disaster was caused by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire train dashing into the Midland train at the ex-cop ticket platform. They also knew that the block system of signalling which ordinarily prevailed in that part of the line was suspended on the delicate Castor fee, and the signalling was done by ground flagmen using green and red flags.

. Evidence had been given showing that special printed instructions for the week were given out to all the drivers and fireman of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Company, and that it was their duty to read them. The driver and fireman of the train which caused the collision had received a copy of these instructions, and had they followed them and the general rules of the company, the accident would probably not have happened.

The Coroner proceeded to read out the ordinary rules and the special regulations as to signalling, and the duties of drivers and fireman when approaching a junction. He pointed out that Davies, the fireman, admitted he saw two of the flagmen at Hexthorpe showing the danger flag, but yet did not tell his mate the driver. The Coroner also pointed out that the driver, if he had been keeping a look-out as he ought to have done, would have seen each of the two first flagmen. No attention was paid to the flag signals, and the collision was the result. The driver knew, or ought to have known, of the special arrangements that were introduced. It was the duty of both the engine driver and the fireman to read the special instructions, particularly when they were coming to Doncaster on two race days when it must have been known that the traffic w exceptionally heavy.

The jury retired to consider their verdict at 12:30 and returned after 55 minutes’ absence.

The Foreman, in reply to the Coroner, said:

The verdict we have agreed to sir is this— and I may say before reading the verdict, that we are unanimously of this opinion, the 14 of us :— ” We find that the 19 deceased persons whose bodies we have seen, lost their lives in a collision between a Midland and a Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire train at Hexthorpe on the 16th day of September,* 1887, and that the collision was the result of culpable carelessness on the part of the driver and fireman of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire train, and that both are


The Coroner: That is your verdict, gentlemen?

The Foreman -. That is our verdict.

Taylor and Davies were afterwards formally committed for trial on the Coroner’s warrant, bail being allowed. We understand that the county police intend to charge them with manslaughter.